SYRIA: Belgian weapons for ‘opposition’

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Profit and Proliferation, Part 2: Will Belgian Arms End Up in Syria?

April 6, 2012

In a post yesterday, At War looked at how legal arms sales by Belgium’s main weapons manufacturer, FN Herstal, became a troubling factor in the Libyan conflict over the past year. Now there are concerns about where those weapons may turn up next.

Does Belgium share any responsibility in trying to secure Libya’s arms? That depends on whom you ask, and what you mean by “arms.”

Photo: FN Herstal cartridges from 1977 in a magazine for an FN FAL assault rifle. Tripoli, February 2012.

Belgium promised 225,000 euros (about $300,000) to an international program led by the United States that is intended to secure the loose stock of heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles in Libya. These weapons were provided to Libya not by Belgium but by former Eastern bloc states. In 2013, a future phase of this program could focus on securing small arms, which Belgium did supply to Libya. While Belgium doesn’t exclude participating in it, the Walloon government, which is FN Herstal’s sole shareholder, has categorically refused to get involved. Its president, Rudy Demotte, argued that the problem was exclusively Libya’s and that his government did not want to enter a “neocolonial logic.”

But Belgium could be confronted with another problem in terms of small arms. Many Libyans say that Qatar, France, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates provided Libyan rebels with weapons during the recent war. Some of these countries are FN Herstal customers, raising the question of whether Belgian small arms, exported to countries that agreed not to re-export them, were nonetheless re-exported.

On Feb. 26, 2011, the United Nations voted the Resolution 1970, imposing an arms embargo in Libya. Nevertheless, in the spring and summer of 2011, Qatar started shipping military material to the rebels in Benghazi. Some of the weapons shipped by Qatar could well have been FN FAL assault rifles produced in Belgium, according to anti-Qaddafi fighters who received them.

Several fighters said in interviews that their FN FALs were supplied by Qatar. Also, a Libyan operator who worked at the Benina airport in Benghazi in April 2011 said he remembered crates from Qatar full of Belgian FALs. Those particular FALs match the weapons sold by Belgium to the Qatar armed forces. It was impossible to trace serial numbers, however, as this procedure requires a special Interpol request. The Walloon authorities as well as FN Herstal declined to comment.

Belgium’s federal authorities insisted they did not receive any re-export request from Qatar, but also said they have no intention to investigate further.

“The Belgian interpretation of the arms embargo is strict: no weapons were to be supplied,” said Michel Malherbe, a spokesman for the Belgian Foreign Affairs. In this interpretation, if the anti-Qaddafi fighers’ accounts are accurate, then Qatar potentially breached the terms of the U.N. resolution, and Belgium’s refusal to investigate is at odds with the position of one of its neighbors.

Switzerland, upon seeing military material it sold to Qatar in 2009 reappear in Libya in 2011, suspended its arms-export licenses to Qatar from July to December 2011.

The European Common Position on Arms Sales, adopted in 2008, stipulates that the selling country has to assess “the existence of a risk that the equipment will be diverted within the buyer country or re-exported under undesirable conditions.” Qatar, according to the Libyan fighters’ accounts, presents such a risk, as it re-exported military goods to third parties without authorization.

As the fighting continues in Syria, this issue could become more pressing. Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the Qatari prime minister, declared on Feb. 27 that he was favorable to supplying weapons to the Syrian rebels in their fight against Bashar al-Assad. “We have to do what it takes to help them,” he said during an official visit to Norway, “including giving them weapons so that they could defend themselves.”

The same position was adopted by Saudi Arabia. Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi foreign minister, declared that humanitarian help was “not enough” and that arming Syrian rebels was “an excellent idea.” (On the other hand, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton voiced concerns that arming the Syrian opposition could also end up helping Al Qaeda and other jihadist groups get weapons more easily.)

Saudi Arabia is the second-most-important Belgian small-arms customer, behind the United States. This puts Belgian authorities into a difficult position: “The European code and the new Belgian law we tried to install are clear: we cannot export weapons to a country that doesn’t respect non re-export clauses,” said Sophie Paczkowski, spokesperson for the Walloon Region.

On March 9, the Walloon government invited Belgian federal authorities to ask the European Union partners about the Syrian situation. This request was made ahead of the meeting of an European Union Council Working Group on Conventional Arms Exports on April 26. The Walloon region first decided to suspend issuing new arms export licenses for Qatar and Saudi Arabia. On March 20, however, the region reversed its decision. Until the working group’s gathering, Wallonia will adapt its license policy to the decisions of other European Union countries.

Odds are that little will change after the meeting: no formal decisions will be made at this level. “For questions of this nature, it works more like a consultative body,” said Roy Isbister, from the violence watch group Saferworld. “Countries have an opportunity to ask their E.U. partners what they think about a particular issue, but they don’t have to, and anyway any decision is still then taken at the national level. The problem is that the European Common Position allows for multiple interpretations. It is the selling country that has to assess by itself, following its own interpretation of the criteria, including the risk of arms diversion, when it comes to selling military goods.”

The question remaining is: What will the European countries decide on their own national levels? If the arms licenses to Qatar and Saudi Arabia are not suspended, the sector’s regulations will prove to be no more than empty shells. If they are suspended, FN Herstal loses one of its bigger customers, and the whole Belgian weapons industry is endangered. Regarding Belgian and European arms interests, the Arab uprisings look more and more like a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The Walloon region will not be able to indefinitely shift its responsibilities onto its European neighbors, and will ultimately face a critically tough decision.

===

Photos: A Belgian FN FAL assault rifle said to have been supplied by Qatar during the war. Benghazi, February 2012 – FN Herstal cartridges from 1977 in a magazine for an FN FAL assault rifle. Tripoli, February 2012 – Former Belgian Prime Minister and leader of the European liberals, who was pleading for military interventions in Libya and Syria, pleading for the delivery of weapons to the so called Syrian ‘opposition’.  Verhofstadt has good contacts with the European weapons ans arms lobby.

http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/06/profit-and-proliferation-part-2-will-belgian-arms-end-up-in-syria/?_r=0

http://www.ipisresearch.be/publications_detail.php?id=387

(Info: ‘Divers’ http://diversdiverse.skynetblogs.be/belgian-weapons/ )

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3 thoughts on “SYRIA: Belgian weapons for ‘opposition’

  1. List of military equipment used by Syrian ‘opposition forces'”

    Large equipment like tanks and vehicles are generally captured from Syrian Army supplies, but small arms are likely a mixture of captured Syrian Army weapons, weapons imported by foreign combatants joining the opposition forces, or other sources. These include funding by private donors (notably from the Gulf region) and equipment supplied by friendly nations.

    The U.S. supplied a considerable amount of weapons and ammunition, generally of Soviet-type from Easter Europe, to Syrian rebel groups under operation Timber Sycamore. For example Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that in December 2015 the U.S. shipped 994 tonnes of weapons and ammunition (including packaging and container weight)

    Browning Hi-Power[citation needed] 9×19mm Parabellum Pistol Belgium
    FN FAL[9][10][11] FN-FAL belgian.jpeg 7.62×51mm NATO Battle rifle Belgium

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_military_equipment_used_by_Syrian_opposition_forces

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  2. 23 March 2013
    Evidence Of Jabhat al-Nusra With Croatian Weapons

    In recent weeks I’ve been tracking the spread of arms purchased from Croatia by Saudi Arabia which were then sent to what were meant to be moderate Free Syrian Army groups via Jordan. Already there’s been examples of groups such as Ahrar al-Sham and other militant Islamist groups using these weapons, and there’s now evidence that Jabhat al-Nusra has been using these weapons.

    This first image of a M79 Osa titled “One of JAN lions fighting to liberate Alsahweh brigade”, taken from this Jabhat al-Nusra statement, comes from a joint operation with other opposition groups to capture a military base outside of Al Sahweh, Daraa that took place in the middle of February, and involved a number of groups using a large number of weapons provided by Saudi Arabia from Croatia in the battle.

    The second image is taken from this report, and shows a M60 recoilless gun being used to attack an army outpost, Hajez Barad, in Busr al-Harir, Daraa, on March 2nd. From late December 2012 onwards Busr al-Harir has been the scene of heavy fighting when multiple opposition groups attacked Syrian army forces in the town using large numbers of the Croatian weapons provided by Saudi Arabia.

    In both cases multiple opposition groups were involved with the fighting, many of which were the original intended recipients of these weapons, so it’s possible that Jabhat al-Nusra received these weapons from those groups during the battles. It’s unclear how many weapons they received, but it’ll be another aspect of the Croatian arms story I’ll be tracking in the coming weeks and months.

    http://brown-moses.blogspot.be/2013/03/evidence-of-jabhat-al-nusra-with.html

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  3. Dec 7th, 2016 – US and Europe in ‘major airlift of arms to Syrian rebels through Zagreb’

    The United States has coordinated a massive airlift of arms to Syrian rebels from Croatia with the help of Britain and other European states, despite the continuing European Union arms embargo, it was claimed yesterday.
    The West, and especially Turkey and the United States, want the rebels to be better armed.

    xxxxx

    Decisions by William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, to provide non-lethal assistance and training, announced in the past week, were preceded by much greater though less direct Western involvement in the rebel cause, according to a Croat newspaper.
    It claimed 3,000 tons of weapons dating back to the former Yugoslavia have been sent in 75 planeloads from Zagreb airport to the rebels, largely via Jordan since November.
    The story confirmed the origins of ex-Yugoslav weapons seen in growing numbers in rebel hands in online videos, as described last month by The Daily Telegraph and other newspapers, but suggests far bigger quantities than previously suspected.
    The shipments were allegedly paid for by Saudi Arabia at the bidding of the United States, with assistance on supplying the weapons organised through Turkey and Jordan, Syria’s neighbours. But the report added that as well as from Croatia, weapons came “from several other European countries including Britain”, without specifying if they were British-supplied or British-procured arms.
    British military advisers however are known to be operating in countries bordering Syria alongside French and Americans, offering training to rebel leaders and former Syrian army officers. The Americans are also believed to be providing training on securing chemical weapons sites inside Syria.

    President Barack Obama has been lukewarm about arming Syrian rebels though many of his aides have been privately been keener.
    The story in the Jutarnji List newspaper gave the fullest details yet of the arms shipments which have enabled rebel forces to begin advancing across the north of Syria in recent weeks, after months of stalemate.
    The weapons, including rocket launchers, recoil-less guns and the M79 anti-tank weapon, have been seen in rebel hands in numerous videos, and were first spotted by an arms expert Eliot Higgins, who blogs under the name Brown Moses. He traced them moving from Dera’a in the south, near the Jordanian border, to Aleppo and Idlib provinces in the north.
    Western officials told the New York Times that the weapons had been bought from Croatia by Saudi Arabia, and that they had been funnelled to rebel groups seen by the west as more secular and nationalist.
    The British involvement fits with the government’s policy of doing all it can to help the rebels within the EU arms embargo, which was modified but not dropped at the start of this month. Croatia, a close western ally, does not join the EU until July 1 and has yet to implement the relevant EU legislation, though it has denied the newspaper’s claims.
    The claims were denied by the Foreign Office. “While the Foreign Secretary has ruled out no options for the future, the UK has not supplied weapons to the Syrian opposition,” a spokesman said. “This would be a clear breach of the current EU arms embargo.”
    According to the Croat newspaper, the first cargo planes involved with the shipment were from Turkey, but most have been from Jordanian International Air Cargo, whose Russian-made Ilyushin jets have been seen regularly at Zaghreb airport in recent months.
    The airlift of dated but effective Yugoslav-made weapons meets key concerns of the West, and especially Turkey and the United States, who want the rebels to be better armed to drive out the Assad regime but fear ultra-modern weaponry getting into the hands of jihadists and the PKK Kurdish terror group.
    Nevertheless, Mr Higgins has recently posted videos showing some of the Croat weapons in the hands of the jihadist group Ahrar al-Sham.
    Although regarded as hostile to the West, it fights closely with other Free Syrian Army units regarded as acceptable recipients of weapons.

    (By Richard Spencer, Middle East Correspondent 8 Mar 2013)

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/9918785/US-and-Europe-in-major-airlift-of-arms-to-Syrian-rebels-through-Zagreb.html

    xxxx

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